tv Tavis Smiley WHUT December 27, 2010 7:00pm-7:30pm EST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. first up tonight, our conversation with grammy-winning musicians lyle lovett. in january, he will go on a major u.s. tour and help bring down the curtain on the long- running music series "austin city limits." recently he started "much ado about nothing." also, johnny mathis. he sold over 100 million albums during his career and he is out now with this first ever country cd called the "let it be me." music greats lyle lovett and johnny mathis, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading.
>> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. wi every question and answer, nationwide insurance is happy to help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: pleased to welcome back to this program, honored to have on this program lyle lovett. the fourth time grammy-winning it -- grammy winner and actor
recently starred alongside our friend helen hunt and the stage production of "much ado about nothing." in january, he is appearing on the last ever episode of the iconic music series "austin city limits." up♪ i will rise again i will stand tall i will stand tall i will rise up ♪ >> ♪ ooh tavis: you are one busy dude. >> thankfully. i love my job and i want to keep it.
tavis: your acting, singing, recording. >> it is a wonderful thing to do something that you want to do. it is rare that i have had two days that are alike. i love all of the variety. does that mean that you are restless, super gifted, and need better things to do, or all of the above or none of the above? >> i think it means that i have so many talented people. that is the thing i love the most about getting to do music or acting. i get to meet so many immensely talented people and hang out with them, learn from them. this thing out was doing in los angeles, the shakespeare deal, let me work with helen hunt. it was just inspiring, every day. tavis: how do you go about
picking your acting choices? you and not doing the same thing over and over again. >> should i say i am very careful and read through everything? there are not many choices, really. so if it comes along, if it seems like it will be fun and has quality people, you just say yes. tavis: the helen hunt offer does not come along every day. >> surely. and i got to do a couple of guest spots on "mad about you." in 1993, there were looking for a local guy to play songs, and that is when i met her. i want to talk about "austin city limits." the venue will be tweaked. what can you tell me about it?
>> it is one of the greatest movie shows -- music shows that has ever been. they treated like a live show, not a tv production. you are able to actually develop a relationship of the audience. they have been in the same studio these 36 years. i was teasing them, i said we'd change venues every day. tavis: this is no big deal. >> they are all torn up about moving, but they're going to a really nice studio and it will still be a great show. tavis: i am told the last recording with the was very emotional. >> so many of the people who have done that show, they are very attached to the place and very nostalgic. i was able to twist their arm and talk them into getting on stage with us for the last song. we all sang together and it was really fun.
tavis: when one reads your biography carefully, you have a connection with not just austin, but texas. tell me about your unique connection with texas. >> i have always lived in texas. i was born and raised in the houston area and my family has lived on the same piece of ground since the 1840's. i have lots of the extended family. i love taxes, but it is the people who make the place and i feel so fortunate to live near my family -- i love texas. my mom is my next-door neighbor, and i am grateful to have her and be up to spend time with her whenever i want. >> you mentioned being in a different venue every day. there are some artists, while they love to live stuff, they get tired of all the moving around. you seem to still be full of energy.
>> i just enjoy getting to play and sing, and it is really a privilege to be supported by the public credit for people to turn up and play all the great theaters across the country that i get to play, it is something. i may enjoy it more than ever, really. on this tour that we're doing in january with john hiatt, he is one of my favorite song writers and singers and we have worked together on and off through the years. tavis: what is the staging for you and him on this tour? >> we sit together on the stage together, just like you and i are. tavis: not me, you don't want me on the stage. >> we just take turns. it is fun, and we talk. i ask him questions that i am curious about it with his songs and his process. it is really different from
night to night. he will not play the same songs from one night to the next and it makes me want to make a different choice, too. it is really a lot like what we would do if nobody was around. tavis: it sounds romantic. >> it is not overtly made up. tavis: on any given night, based on the conversation, the music choice may change on the spot? >> you bet, sure. we are playing alone and we join each other a little bit. that is not a rehearsed deal, it is spontaneous. tavis: that seems to me to call upon a real sense of confidence to go out on the stage on any given night and take a show or virgos -- wherever it goes. no artist does that now.
they have a playlist, they're sticking with the play list. nothing changes. but to go out and be organic and in the moment, there is a certain level of confidence that comes with that. >> if it is confidence, that comes from the audience. the audience gives you that. they're there to help you. one of my favorite things is when people ask for a song that i had not planned to play, and is really fun to see if he could remember something. and you don't always. sometimes we crash. tavis: what happens when you are on stage and you forget the lyrics? >> that happens. eventually, if you do this long enough, at just about anything that can go wrong does. it i have fallen down on stage and broken a bone. it just crazy things. with enough repetition, you
realize you could survive and keep going. tavis: you are always sharper than any guest i have had on the program. >> not true, i watched your show. tavis: you are cleaned every time that you come on. where does this love of clothing come from? i always look at your feet first. i want to see what you have on first. you are always so clean. where did this love of fashion come from? >> you are kind, tavis. i'm just trying to be like you. tavis: i was talking with somebody about this when you walked on the show, and it is weird to see this on television, but whether the cameras are one or not, you are everything that your fans would expect you would be -- kind, gentle, whole -- kind, gentle,
humble. have you always been that way? >> i just feel -- i really feel grateful to be able to play and sing and to be supported by people. there is not a better feeling for me than to meet the folks who come out to our shows and know my songs, might mention one of my songs. it is extraordinary, really, to feel that from people. tavis: when you say supported by the people, beyond buying the music, at the show, this is inside baseball, but when lyle lovett is on the stage, in that moment you say you see -- you feel supported by the people. what does that mean? >> you feel the energy of the audience. you feel when people are pulling for you, and if they want to hear something or ask for a certain song. it really gives you a confidence
to try to play it. you feel a supportive energy in the crowd, or not in some cases. every crowd is different. that is something i enjoy. you can feel it in the first few seconds when you walk out on the stage. tavis: almost immediately? >> you really do, and it is interesting and enjoyable. it is definitely a two-way experience. tavis: have you ever walked on the stage, felt the energy, and decided to go another way? one of my best friends and the world is the grandfather of raymond d. young senior, who is that king cole's -- to list nat king cole's band director. he used to always say to me, never miss your house.
when you walk out on stage, you have to feel that particular house. my question is whether you have ever walked on stage, felt the energy, and based on that decided to go another way? >> absolutely, and usually if i turn around, start to explain what i might do to the band, they are ahead of me. they realize exactly what i might realize and they are like, just go with it, we are with you. tavis: you're most recent project, "natural forces at," is what? >> it is a few of my songs and also songs written by people who helped give me my start when i first was trying to play the clubs around houston. songwriters like eric taylor and then spell out -- and vince
bell, and don sanders. they encouraged me and would let me sit with them during their sets and introduce me to the person who owned the club, but the club, so i did a few of their songs as well. tavis: the latest product is called "natural forces." catch him on tour starting in january. >> thank you for having me on. i love watching the show. tavis: i love having you on the show. come back anytime. up next, our conversation with legendary singer johnny mathis. stay with us. welcomepleasure to johnny mathis to this program. he has sold well 350 million the records during his stellar career that began more than 50 years ago. he is out now with his first ever country album called "let it be me."
before we go to that, from his 50th anniversary concert special, here he is performing his classic hit "misty." >> ♪ i get misty just holding your hand walk my way and a thousand violins begin to play the sound of your fellow -- the sound of your hello i get misty the moment you are here ♪ tavis: you don't need me to tell you this, but you still have it, johnny mathis. >> thank you very much. every time i hear myself, it sound like a caricature of
myself. tavis: have you always liked the sound of your voice, never liked the sound of your voice, or changed over the years? >> yes. yeah, in the beginning, i could not stand it, of course. as a recording very early, when i was 19. it my voice was a little flexible, i guess, but eventually, it settled down. i started to listen to people like nat king cole and compared myself, but then it got to the point where i got comfortable with it. but it is still the strangest feeling in the world to hear yourself so often, as i have to hear myself bit detached
sometimes. tavis: you mentioned that you started recording at about 19. your back story, we all know the legend, it is so fascinating for me. if i have this correct, it is your father who first here is that you have a voice. it is your voice to says we have to give you voice lessons. the way that you paid for those voice lessons from your teacher was to do household chores? >> right, connie cox was her name, wonderful lady. i met her when i was 13, studied with her about seven years. of course, i could not pay, but i clean her studio, in the studio where she taught music. i would clean the studio, run errands for her, and did things between her paid students. i would sit in the corner and do
my homework and listen to the paying students. i think that is where i really learned to hear the trial and errors that her paying students made and how they accomplished what they did. she was a wonderful teacher and i was absolutely blessed to have her. tavis: you studied with her for seven years, pushing you into time to go to college. what many fans may not know, you were an amazing athlete, so amazing that you had the choice at one. to try out for the olympic team or to record -- you had the choice at one point to try out for the olympic team or to record for columbia records. >> in the same week, one week, i had to either do one or the other. but over the years, i had studied with something in mind of making recordings.
i had made some recordings with my voice teacher, but this was really something special. the person who signed me to columbia records, he was a mentor to people like mahalia jackson, an enormous people, and i was a big fan of his. to be able to go with him to new york, make my first recording with people like jamba list and the modern jazz quartet, -- to make my first recording with people like john lewis and the modern jazz quartet, they were jazz icons at the time. i was over the moon about recording, so i did. i went to new york and made my first recording. tavis: you're back story is so phenomenal to me. what i am about to say is unheard of, you signed, passed
on the olympics, signed with columbia in 1956. >> 1956 or 1957. thes: let's just say for sake of television, 1956. am i think i did sign in 1956 in the first recording came out in 1957. tavis: thank you, mr. mathis. kudos to my research team. my calendar reads 2010, here is the amazing part, october to be exact, 2010, and you are still with columbia records. >> isn't that amazing? tavis: that is unheard of. nobody in this business stays with the same record company from 1956 until 2010. how was that possible? >> i don't know.
the company has changed. i must have gone through 16 or 20 different presidents. tavis: at least. >> and of course all of the other people who support their artists. it is -- i don't know. i am lucky. tavis: why from 1956 until 2010 did it take you this long to figure out that you are good enough to record some country- western? >> i think most people are of a mind that the really big country hits, not the performances by these iconic people -- the performances by these iconic people, you cannot really do any better. but i had recorded some music, country music, over the years, but never gone to national and
sat in with all of the other guitar players and what have you. it was a great experience for me, i loved it, and i was so thrilled i got the opportunity to record some of these wonderful songs. tavis: since you mentioned it, who does johnny mathis has as an icon? -- who does johnny mathis have as an icon? since she went there, i am sure it is an eclectic roster. >> everybody that i grew up listening to. nat king cole has been my favorite not only musician, singer, person that i have met along the way keri -- along the way. when i was 13, i started singing in the jazz clubs of san francisco. every week, ella fitzgerald, bill lee epstein, dizzy
gillespie, oscar peterson, earl garner. all of these people are still in my heart. i still have them on my ipod. the new were once, people who i have worked with. i have sung with almost everybody. lena horne, patti austin, denise williams. you name them, i have some with them, -- i had sung with them, and they are all my friends. they have so many abilities, and is so wonderful to be able to listen to one or the other hand enjoy them -- to the other and enjoy them. i listened to all kinds of
music. my dad was that way. the music that he brought into the house was so eclectic. tavis: speaking of eclectic, this is the first time he has ever done a country album. it is called johnny mathis "let it be me." what a delight to have you on this program to talk about your life and legacy, which is a long way from over. thank you for coming to see us. >> thank you, tavis. tavis: that is our show for tonight. access the radio podcast on pbs.com. i will see you next time. until then, good night from l.a., thank you for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> ♪ i am aware of the treasury that i own and i say to myself it is wonderful, wonderful
oh, so wonderful, my love i say to myself it is wonderful, wonderful oh, wonderful, my love ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for our conversation with former british prime minister gordon brown. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley.
with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--